As specialized dietitians, sports nutritionists work directly with athletes to expose them to a more nutrition-conscious lifestyle. This role can include working with a professional sports team, in a college or university athletic department or helping young athletes get off to a healthy start by partnering with youth sports organizations or K-12 educational institutions. Sports nutritionists may also go into private practice to support clients in all of these areas.
A successful career in sports nutrition is founded in clinical nutrition, exercise science and counseling and an entrepreneurial mindset and practical experience. Developing this array of skills requires both the right educational background and job experience.
A typical day for a sports nutritionist
A typical day for a sports nutritionist can include establishing personalized dietary regimens for athletes, and customizing meal plans that provide performance benefits for their clients.. It’s important to review all factors that contribute to each athlete’s nutritional health, such as age, gender, conditioning, workout schedule, type of sport played and any past or current injuries. Overall, the goal for sports nutritionists is to provide athletes with the best possible diet for optimal performance and health.
Other responsibilities of a sports nutritionist include:
- Consulting with physicians and other health care staff.
- Providing sports nutrition education.
- Reviewing the latest scientific evidence and translating it into practical recommendations.
- Screening and assessing patients’ nutritional needs, diet restrictions and current health plans.
- Tracking and documenting patient performance.
It’s also important to remember that while many think of athletes as the primary client for a sports nutritionist, sports nutritionists can also support coaches, trainers and community groups.
How to become a sports nutritionist
Employers primarily look for candidates with a bachelor’s degree; however, having an advanced degree provides additional options in higher positions such as education, research or administration.
In addition to obtaining the proper education to be considered for open sports nutritionist positions, it’s important to review credential opportunities and requirements. Having your registered dietitian credential is a great place to start, as it establishes your qualifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
As sports dietetics becomes more specialized, exploring further credentials can set you apart from other applicants and provide you with an additional asset when marketing yourself and your services. You can earn your board certification in sports dietetics through the Commission on Dietetic Registration if you are a current registered dietician, have maintained your certification status for a minimum of two years and have the appropriate documented hours of specialty practice experience.
General skills are equally as important as education and credentials in becoming a successful sports nutritionist. Sandra Mayol-Kreiser, a clinical associate professor at Arizona State University, said, “I tell my students all the time, you can be the best dietitian in the world, but if your patients are not understanding what you're saying and they’re not [following their nutrition plan] at home, it’s futile.”
Communication is key when working directly with clients. It’s imperative that your clients understand how you explain a nutrition plan and educate and counsel clients to establish the right dietary habits. Other important skills include:
- Close attention to detail, especially when measuring vital information from your clients.
- Self-motivation to work independently, whether you’re self-employed or work for a larger organization.
- Strong organizational and analytical skills to keep track of and assess client information to provide an accurate analysis of each individual’s nutritional needs.
- Time management to build nutritional plans for your whole sports team or client roster.